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Arcadia Faces Realities of ‘Small Government’

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 13 August 2013
in Wisconsin

arcadiaSenator Kathleen Vinehout of Alma writes about the reality facing many entities, including municipalities and counties, of small government. Deep budget cuts and shrinking resources make it difficult for state government to provide assistance to communities in need. Kathleen met with officials in Arcadia – one of those communities hit hard by flooding and by shrinking state government.


ARCADIA, WI - People were friendly but anxious. They’d come to a meeting with local leaders to learn about protecting Arcadia from flooding.

Arcadia is nestled in a beautiful valley. Water from the surrounding hills drains into the Trempealeau River that runs right through town. Next to the river is the sprawling international headquarters of Ashley Furniture.

Ashley’s spokesperson began the recent meeting by sharing jobs created and businesses supported: 4,700 jobs created in western Wisconsin. More than 670 local and regional businesses supported.

Local leaders nodded. Many in attendance owned companies that benefited from Ashley’s location.

The problem is how to pay for upgrades to dams, dikes and levees needed to protect the city from flooding when rains drained water from surrounding hills right into the center of town.

Everyone remembered summer storms of 2010 that flooded Arcadia. Company representatives made it clear if storms came again and the company had to be rebuilt it would be in another country. Not in Arcadia.

The company asked for $13 to $20 million to improve the levy along the river.

Congressman Ron Kind said pending legislation could help. The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act - passed the Senate but was tied up in the House because Republican Congressional leaders did not want to spend the money.

An Army Corps of Engineers official explained Corps programs and limits. Times are tough. Funding cuts had eroded the Corps’ building authority.

Local officials explained they did not have the resources to pay for the project. Upstream the Mayor of Independence explained he needed help too.

Digging out Bugle Lake in Independence would hold more water running off the hills. Better yet, put in erosion structures, grass waterways, buffer strips and other conservation efforts. Keep rain on farm fields where it could do some good.

But the Governor and Legislators who voted for the state budget cut back funds for farmer conservation efforts.

Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) officials did have money and were close to an agreement for another part of the project. But WEDC officials didn’t want state efforts washed away with the next big rain.

What was unspoken in the room but on everyone’s mind: elections have consequences. Folks were running up against the new world of smaller government that many of them had promoted. The easy political talk about “cutting government” had turned into real cuts to real programs they wanted and needed.

It is a lesson we all need to take to heart. Let’s be real and specific when we talk about budgets and taxes and spending. Be careful what you ask for. You may get it.

The reality of the budget is this: 85 percent of state spending goes to six priorities upon which most of us agree -- transportation, education, health, local government, prisons and our public universities.

Programs like farmer conservation and dam, dike and levy repair make up a small part of state government. That part is getting smaller. Therefore, there is little money to slow water coming through fields into the Trempealeau River. We need money to keep water on the fields to nourish crops and out of downtown Arcadia.

I came away from the meeting realizing once again that we are a community.

Workers depend on companies for jobs. Companies depend on workers to get the job done.

Everyone depends on the infrastructure created by government, a government that together we have created.

We all have a part in making political decisions. What we decide will shape the communities in which we live, making them better or worse places to raise a family, find a job, and run a business.

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Are Conservatives Hiding the Truth about the Costs of ObamaCare?

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is a Founding Partner and Publisher of the N.E. Wisconsin - Green Ba
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 13 August 2013
in Our View

critical-illGREEN BAY - Maybe, if you don’t look at it, it will go away? That seems to be the conservative stand on the Affordable Health Care Act, commonly known as ObamaCare.

In Washington, the right wing in the House has voted 40 times to kill ObamaCare, while the pressing problems of the nation like job creation and immigration go unanswered.

Governor Scott Walker, darling of the national conservative right wing and Tea Party, decided to shun millions of tax dollars the federal government wanted to give back to Wisconsin to help set up health insurance exchanges.

Right here in Brown County, a Republican “non-partisan” Supervisor named Brad Hopp tried to get a resolution passed preventing the county, and its employees, from assisting Brown County residents in accessing health care made available through the Affordable Care Act.

Now the Walker Administration has still not released the insurance rates for the companies who will be on the new health marketplace. We know who the companies are that will join this marketplace and ensure greater security and control for consumers, but not what the plans will cost!

Some sort of price control on health care costs is fundamental to Affordable Care.

For years, one of the main problems with the American way of providing health care has been it’s ever raising cost. That’s why people needed insurance to pay for health care in the first place. It is why many employers cut full time jobs or moved them overseas rather than pay the costs here to insure employees. That’s one of the major reasons they called it the Affordable Care Act in the first place.

According to our former Congressman, Dr. Steve Kagen of Appleton, one of the authors of the Affordable Care Act, the way to control these costs is the open market place. You go to two or three stores and notice that one store is offering the product at the lowest price. You go back to that store to buy it. The other stores have to lower their price to complete. All you have to know is who has the thing you want and the price.

The Big Health Care Industry and their insurance provider partners have been in the business of hiding the true price of specific health care services for years. Have you ever tried to get an itemized bill after a stay in the hospital? Once we know the price, the free market will drive the costs down.

Wisconsinites need the facts on prices. We deserve to know how much the new insurance rates are. If the news is good and we have lower rates like Maryland and New York, we need to know. If Walker is going to try and spin the numbers like Ohio or Indiana then we need transparency! In either case the truth demands to be told.

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Our progressive friends at Citizen Action of Wisconsin have started a Petition to force Walker to release the new Health Insurance Rates he’s hiding. If you wish to sign the petition, click HERE.

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Fairgoers Express Views on Money in Politics

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Monday, 05 August 2013
in Wisconsin

supreme_corporate_courtThis week Senator Vinehout writes about a poll conducted at the Jackson County Fair regarding the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and money in politics.  Most fairgoers favored amending the constitution to change the Citizens United decision.  Across Wisconsin, efforts are ongoing to push an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that states inalienable rights belong to human beings only, and that money is not a form of protected free speech under the First Amendment and can be regulated in political campaigns.


ALMA - “Corporations are not people,” the Black River Falls woman told me. “People in corporations already get a vote and a chance to speak out just like the rest of us. Giving corporations a vote and a chance to speak out means those people are getting two votes. That’s not fair.”

That statement summarized the opinion of three quarters of the fairgoers in Jackson County who chose to stop and vote on the statement “corporations are people.”

“We should amend the constitution to limit money in politics” garnered support from nearly 9 in 10 participants in the voluntary poll. A nearly unanimous 98% of fairgoers voting in the poll agreed with the statement “Every citizen should be encouraged to vote.”

Although unscientific, the poll does reflect attitudes across the United States related to the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision which held that corporations and unions can spend as much money as they like in elections. The court decision opened the door for the “super PACs” of the 2012 presidential race.

In a later 2012 court ruling, Knox v Service Employees International (SEIU) Local 1000, the high court limited the ability of unions to use money in campaigns making the inequality in contributions between unions and corporations even greater.

Immediately following the high court decision on Citizens United an ABC News Washington Post poll of over 1,000 adults found 8 in 10 opposed the court ruling and 72% favored legislative action to reverse the court decision. People of all political persuasions were opposed to the decision including 73% of those who strongly agreed with the Tea Party’s position on issues.

A 2012 Greenburg Quinlan Rosnex Research poll found 56% of respondents agreed the constitution should be amended to change the Citizens United decision and nearly as many agreed that corporations should not have the same rights as people.

Fairgoers told me corporations’ “speech” is not the same as individual’s speech. The dollars corporations can sink into campaigns far outweigh most people’s ability to contribute to campaigns. Because of the 2012 rush of corporate money in campaigns people feel more distant from and more cynical about the operations of government.

But this feeling has not kept people from being involved in efforts to change things.

Efforts are afoot across Wisconsin to amend the U.S. Constitution to change the Citizens United decision. The group, Move to Amend and others around the state are organized to push an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that states inalienable rights belong to human beings only, and that money is not a form of protected free speech under the First Amendment and can be regulated in political campaigns.

I recently co-sponsored a bill that would call for a statewide advisory referendum on the Citizens United decision.  Voters would be asked if they support action by Congress and the State Legislature to amend to the Constitution to state that only human beings are endowed with constitutional rights, and money is not protected speech.

Most fairgoers hadn’t heard about formal efforts starting the process to amend our constitution. But they were eager to share their opinion about money in politics.

Many felt money from outside the state of Wisconsin should be banned from campaigns. Others felt outside groups should not be allowed to campaign. Still others wanted the veil of secrecy lifted from so-called “independent expenditure” groups – those private third party groups with appealing sounding names that spend so much money in campaigns.

Overall, citizens wanted to express their opinions and wanted elected officials to listen. And they wanted to learn, in an unvarnished way, what was really happening in Madison.

I put together a slide show about the state budget and brochure summarizing provisions of the budget. Fairgoers took time to look at the printed version of the slide show and offer their opinions on the state debt and the deficit.

When I left late one night, a woman stopped me and said, “I really appreciate you being here – you’re the only state elected person I got the chance to speak with. Thanks for coming.”

To everyone who stopped to vote or to offer an opinion I say thanks! I value your opinion!

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See You at the Fair!

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Monday, 29 July 2013
in Wisconsin

kathleenvinehoutThis week Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about her visits to area county fairs. While at the fair, Kathleen visited the exhibits and chatted with the exhibitors. She also got to listen to the pulse of the communities through her conversations with fair goers.  Politics and local issues are as much a part of the fair as cotton candy and carnival rides.


ALMA - The rain and wind didn’t stop Elaine from coming to the Trempealeau County Fair. She brought the quilt she and her 90-year-old mother finished together.

“It’s special to me,” she told me. “I want to show it off!”

Across Wisconsin folks are picking the best of the flowers, quilts and corn stalks. Youngsters are whipping up tasty treats from scratch. Teens are washing cattle, training horses, and arranging flowers.

It’s fair time.

County fairs have a deep tradition in our state. Waukesha County claims the oldest county fair in the state. In fact, this first county fair was held before Wisconsin was even was a state!

The old agricultural expositions, as they were sometimes called, became a place for city folks to meet country dwellers and for farmers to show off their prize crops and cattle. Fairs helped grow the dairy industry. During fair-time farmers learned the latest in new agriculture techniques and competed against each other in categories from corn to quilts.

Today competition is focused more on youth. But many county fairs provide an open class for arts and crafts, food, and agricultural products – giving people of every age a chance to show off their best.

As a 4-Her, I lived for the county fair. Now I enjoy talking with youngsters and sharing their enthusiasm.

Recently I spent several days at the fair and learned things have changed a bit.

Instead of sugar cookies, the 5th graders are making granola bars. In addition to tied quilts, youngsters are involved in robotics. Digital photography replaced the old 35mm film.

But the enthusiasm of youth and the warmth of the community have not changed.

Fairs are a great time to catch up with constituents and listen to the pulse of the community.  It is also a time to discuss the current challenges facing our communities.

This summer I listened and learned more about sand mines from all sides of the issue. I learned from the technician who worked in the propellant plant in Jackson County. I listened as the local official shared concerns about balancing the needs of many constituents. And many of the people who live adjacent to mines shared worries about land, sand, roads, air and water.

I heard from those proud of their work to make the fair a special event. For example, the fair supervisor of youth projects who wanted to share the importance of 4H. She made sure to tell me the youth she’d worked with – over 40 years – never ended up in jail.

Lots of folks wanted to talk about state politics. Everyone had an opinion. Lots of folks had advice. Pretty much all of them agreed we needed more common sense in Madison.

When it came time for judging, it was the youth who stole the show. The hours of preparation made a difference in the show ring. From the shining coat of the lop-eared rabbit to the Holstein heifer that stood picture perfect every time she stopped.

I carry the memories I could not capture on film; like the girl who spent most of the afternoon walking her tall Suffolk sheep all across the fair ground. The sheep was fashionably decked out in a lime green Spandex sheep tube – something like a coat.

Even more fashionable was the fair queen and her attendant. They were dressed in their finest – but with a twist. Both young women were attired in lovely dresses but the queen had on her barn boots and the attendant wore her cowboy boots.

Only at the fair!

Wisconsin has more than 75 fairs in every corner of the state. Coming up soon are the Jackson County Fair in Black River Falls and the Buffalo County Fair in Mondovi both the first weekend of August.

Don’t forget the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis August 1st to 11th.

You can find more information at the Department of Tourism website:

http://www.travelwisconsin.com/things-to-do/entertainment-attractions/fairs-festivals

or the Wisconsin Association of Fairs website: http://www.wifairs.com/wifairs.asp

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Rural Wisconsin: "Don’t Lose the Home Phone"

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Monday, 22 July 2013
in Wisconsin

kathleenvinehoutThis week Sen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about the problems with phone coverage in rural Wisconsin. Often in rural areas cell coverage can be spotty or simply nonexistent. People rely on their land-line phone to communicate with the rest of the world. Legislation was passed in 2011 that ended the requirement of a “provider of last resort” protection for consumers so Kathleen teamed up with AARP to reinstate this requirement.


ALMA - “My cell phone doesn’t work at home, so here’s my home number,” I told the constituent. “My home phone is the best way to reach me.”

If you live in rural Buffalo, Eau Claire, Trempealeau, Pierce, or at least eight other northern or western Wisconsin counties you or your neighbors likely have poor cell coverage. A recent analysis of the coverage maps of 5 major firms shows customers in at least 12 Wisconsin counties face a lack of cell coverage.

Most of us in rural counties have adapted. We don’t expect the cell phone to work and we don’t bother calling cell numbers for rural neighbors. But what happens if you pick up the old landline and it’s dead?

That’s what residents in Fire Island, New York are now facing. And if big phone companies have their way, your landline could be gone by the end of this decade.

A recent story in the Washington Post detailed the problems local residents of Fire Island faced after Hurricane Sandy. Following the storm, residents discovered their home phone company, Verizon, refused to repair torn and waterlogged phone lines.

Customers surrounding Washington, D.C. complained of aggressive Verizon sales representatives forcing customers to abandon their copper line home phones in return for expensive newer technology. Customers who want to return to their copper line phone cannot switch back.

According to the National Regulatory Research Institute, Wisconsin was one of 21 states that deregulated phone companies between 2010 and April 2012. The study detailed similar legislation pending in another 14 states. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate “bill mill”, is a driving force behind telephone deregulation.

The predominant carrier in Wisconsin, AT&T, lobbied for the deregulation bill that passed early in 2011. One provision of the new law ended the 100-year-old agreement between customers and the utility that brought reliable phone service to every part of Wisconsin.

When the deregulation bill was debated in the Senate I authored several amendments to protect consumers including one to keep the requirement for the “provider of last resort.” This meant if no other phone company provided service for you, your local phone company couldn’t come in and pull the plug.

Unfortunately my amendment failed and the new law passed that allowed companies to quit serving areas regardless of whether or not customers have other options. This part of the new law went into effect in early May 2013.

At the time the law passed, proponents argued a federal law protected people from losing local phone service. But last November, AT&T petitioned the federal government to remove those requirements.

According to the July Washington Post article, AT&T wrote that 70% of customers in their 22-state region chose to use wireless or internet based voice services. The company claimed landline phone service was “obsolete”.

But for many of us having a landline phone is not just a convenience; it is critical for commerce, health and safety. Rural electricity can be unreliable, law enforcement is far away, internet can be dial-up and fax machines are vital to rural commerce.

Many rural businesses could not function without a landline phone. Companies rely on the phone for orders, connecting with vendors and approving credit card transactions or checking bank balances.

Our Wisconsin countryside is aging.  Sometimes elderly folks need heart monitors or Lifeline services. But these services don’t work over cell phones. The industries of rural Wisconsin, agriculture and mining, top the list for dangerous occupations. The landline phone can mean the difference between life and death.

Ambulance response time may already be 20 minutes; driving somewhere to find cell coverage means more precious time lost when lives are on the line.

The health and safety of our neighbors should concern us all. This is why I teamed up with AARP Wisconsin to draft and promote legislation that would reinstate the “provider of last resort” law.

This summer I am working with advocates to bring attention to potential problems in rural Wisconsin without a landline phone and the need for this legislation.

Please spread the word. And give your neighbors a call - while you still can.

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